Press Release: New paper reveals where London's Green Belt must be built on to curtail housing crisis

For further comments or to arrange an interview, contact Head of Communications Kate Andrews: kate@adamsmith.org | 07584 778207.

  • London and surrounding counties need at least one million new homes in the next ten years to meet housing demand, and to stop rents and house prices from soaring higher.
  • Many of these new homes will have to come on greenfield or Green Belt sites because not enough suitable brownfield land exists; we estimate that this will require roughly 20,000 hectares of green belt space.
  • Almost the full amount of space (20,000ha) can be found within a 10 minute walk – 800m – of existing commuter train stations.
  • This paper explores some of the best areas to build on low quality Green Belt around London. Locations include: East of Theydon Bois station, around Redbridge, Pinner Park Farm in Harrow, and some of the hundreds of Green Belt golf courses.

London must build on low quality Green Belt spaces around existing commuter infrastructure to solve its housing crisis, according to a new paper from the Adam Smith Institute which identifies many of those areas.

Building on 20,000 acres of the Metropolitan Green Belt (roughly 3.7%) would create room for the 1m new homes needed, estimating 50 houses per acre; nearly all of which could be built within 10 minutes walk of a station.

The paper, A Garden of One’s Own: Suggestions for development in the Metropolitan Green Belt, identifies specific areas where tens of thousands of dwellings can be built, and points out how providing the housing Londoners need does not require ‘concreting over’ the countryside, destroying amenity, or overcrowding.

The author of the paper, Tom Papworth, considers the five main justifications given for the green belt: to check sprawl; to prevent towns merging; to safeguard the countryside; to preserve historic towns; and to force land recycling; and notes that many pieces of land currently designated that way do not meet any of these.

For example, there is an area of land between Hainault, Barkingside, Chadwell Heath and Colliers Row, totalling about 1,200 ha—or 60,000 dwellings at standard densities outside of London—where none of these purposes apply. It is already swallowed by Redbridge, it would have no impact on merging with London, there are no historic towns, and land recycling is irrelevant.

The table below lays out the total land available of different types that could be used to fill the 20,000 hectare demand, assuming standard densities. At inner London densities of 120 dwellings/ha it would take much less land, and at lower densities of 30-40/ha it would take more.

Screen shot 2016-01-08 at 11.05.17

Screen shot 2016-01-08 at 11.05.17

The author of the report, Tom Papworth, said:

London and the surrounding counties need 1 million new homes over the next 10 years, but there is only enough ‘brownfield’ land for a third of that. ‘Greenfield’ development is no longer a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’.

Green Belts are unsustainable. Green Belt policy pushes up the cost of living, reduces people’s quality of life and actually harms the environment. Yet it has become an article of faith among politicians and is staunchly defended by the (generally wealthier) citizens who live near the Green Belt, and those who value the notion but ignore the harm it does to others.

We have to choose whether to protect valuable inner-city green space or sacrifice our parks for the sake of low-grade farmland, golf courses and already-developed sites that happen to have once been classified as Green Belt. With London’s mayoral election due in a few months, it is time to put housing at the top of the political agenda.

Executive Director of the Adam Smith Institute, Sam Bowman, added:

London’s Green Belt is a corrupt subsidy to the middle class that hurts ordinary Londoners. It doesn’t provide amenity to most Londoners, who rarely even see it, and it drives up land prices which makes houses and inner-city green spaces unaffordable for everybody but the rich. To solve the housing crisis, we need to build more homes. To build more homes, we need to free up some of London’s green belt. It’s as simple as that.

This doesn’t have to mean less green space. More green belt land available for development means cheaper land, cheaper gardens, and bigger public parks and sports fields. Those are green spaces that Londoners actually use. Right now London is being strangled by the Green Belt, and freeing up more of that land for development of houses, gardens and parks would give all of us more room to breathe.

Notes to Editors:

For further comments or to arrange an interview, contact Kate Andrews, Head of Communications, at kate@adamsmith.org | 07584 778207.

To read A Garden of One’s Own: Suggestions for development in the Metropolitan Green Belt, click here.

In January 2015, the Adam Smith Institute released The Green Noose: An analysis of Green Belts and proposals for reform, which looks at the Green Belt’s impact on England’s housing shortage. After a comprehensive review of the causes of the housing crisis, it concludes that the planning structure is out of date and in need of radical reform.

The Adam Smith Institute is a free market, libertarian think tank based in London. It advocates classically liberal public policies to create a richer, freer world.